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  • Writer's pictureAllison Wilcox

Compassion for the guilty

The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place. ~ Genesis 18:17-33

Not many people stand up to God to try to talk God out of something.

Abraham was not many people.

Despite popular myth, the primary sin of Sodom was a distinct and cruel lack of hospitality. Yes, gang rape was part of their inhospitable acts, but their other sins included a general distain for caring for the poor despite Sodom's wealth.

Despite that, Abraham went to bat for them. Or, at least he went to bat for the righteous people in Sodom. Yet, if the few righteous were saved, so would the guilty be.

Mercy in the form of kindness can be extended to the least deserving of people in the least deserving of places.

And sometimes that means going to the powerful to ask for it.

I think of the folks who regularly protest capital punishment at prisons before a prisoner's death sentence is carried out. For many, their compassion is for the innocent people on death row. Between 1976 and 2015, roughly 1400 innocent people - those who were later exonerated - have been executed.

Yet in the fight against capital punishment, the compassion goes also to the guilty.

Compassion for the guilty might not be easy. It might go against the fiber of our being. And yet, when we extend that compassion, we are opening up beyond ourselves: opening ourselves up to the divine essence of mercy and kindness.

Holy God, move me toward justice, mercy, and humility in all my dealings with your people. Amen

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